Political alliances and membership turf wars are fracturing the Kingdom's labor movement
and hampering efforts to effectively address the problems of Cambodia's garment workers.
The Sam Rainsy-backed Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC)
and the allegedly CPP-backed Cambodia Union Federation (CUF) presidents admit they
are unable to co-operate to help resolve the problems of the Kingdom's approximately
170,000 garment workers.
FTUWKC president Chea Vichea says that his relations with the CUF are seriously strained
by what he calls CUF President Chuon Mom Thol's "collusion" with factory
"When I speak up to protect the workers' rights and criticize the garment factories
owners and the government, Chuon Mom Thol is unhappy with me," he said. "When
we want to take action the CUF members always say 'Don't strike, don't strike'."
Mom Thol rejects Vichea's allegations. "I'm a former student from [a] US law
school, so I don't do crazy stuff," he said, adding that he prefers to settle
labor disputes with "...the pen, not the gun".
"I've only called five or maybe seven strikes, but that doesn't mean I don't
do my job... when my workers don't go to the factory I suffer myself, so I don't
want to be in that position," he said.
Since its inception the CUF has been alleged to be a CPP front organization to tame
and divert legitimate union-building efforts.
Mom Thol admits being a member of the CPP but challenges suggestions that he is a
CPP frontman and dependent on CPP funding.
"I have so many donors I can't tell you," Mom Thol said, adding that he
derives funding from Japanese donors as well as ongoing funds of $5,000 a quarter
from the Australian Embassy.
When contacted by the Post, however, the Australian Embassy disavowed any donor relationship
with the CUF beyond a one-time training grant in 2000. All funding to any Cambodian
unions, including the CUF, had been discontinued, an Embassy spokesman said.
The FTUWKC, meanwhile, in no way seeks to hide its links to its founder, opposition
leader Sam Rainsy, but emphasises that it is moving towards a more independent, apolitical
However FTUWKC boss Chea Vichea still refers to Rainsy as the "dean" of
their union and does not deny that the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) pays the union offices'
monthly rent and electrical bills.
Both Mom Thol and Vichea point to the case of Wing Tai garment factory union rep
Keth Socheat as evidence of the treachery and duplicity of the other.
According to Vichea, Socheat was fired on January 2 only days after becoming the
FTUWKC's Wing Tai representative. He had previously served in the same capacity for
the CUF. Socheat confirms Vichea's account of the circumstances of his sacking.
Wing Tai administration director, Long Phally, told the Post that Socheat had been
fired over a personal dispute with the CUF and the factory had eventually settled
the dispute with a $1,000 severance.
Mom Thol insists Socheat was fired for theft and for threatening to kill Wing Tai's
The conflict occurs in the context of a movement in which at least six unions are
competing for worker membership.
Complicating matters further is the Cambodian Labor Union Federation, the successor
to Cambodian-American entrepreneur Ted Ngoy's Free Unions Federation of which the
US Embassy's Aug 2000 Labor Trends Report stated there was "...little evidence
that the union existed anywhere other than on paper".
Jason Judd, Country Representative of the new American Center for International Labor
Solidarity, is optimistic that Cambodian workers can rise above the bickering and
in-fighting of the organizations seeking to represent them.
"They're pretty gutsy," he said of the Kingdom's workers. "Pretty
gutsy and pretty angry."